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MSI X48 Platinum

X48 Motherboard Comparison
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The X48 Platinum features the same circuit board as previously seen on MSI's X38 Diamond, where boxed accessories had put its Diamond series a cut above same-generation Platinums. Added parts aside, the X48 Express Northbridge's higher validated bus frequency could put the X48 Platinum ahead of its accessorized predecessor.

MSI goes well beyond the competing parts of this comparison in graphics card support, by providing four PCI Express x16 slots. Located just below the Southbridge, an added IDT 89HPES16T7ZH PCI Express hub is responsible for managing the extra slot.

Slot bandwidth is a different matter, as only the two top slots support PCI Express 2.0 mode and the full sixteen PCI Express pathways. The bottom two slots each provide x4 transfer mode, and furthermore must share a combined four pathways on the other side of the hub. The hub is responsible for prioritizing data, so that most or all of the bandwidth can be directed to either slot dynamically.

Fitting all those slots on a 7-slot ATX layout required MSI to take a tip from the past and put the uppermost x16 slot in the highest possible slot position. This in turn required traditional placement of the memory slots near the motherboard's top edge, so that long graphics cards would clear the DIMM latches. These design moves are a sharp contrast to those of other manufacturers, who have recently moved their memory slots "southward" in an effort to shorten trace lengths for improved high-frequency stability. MSI's design is far more convenient - as long as it works.

MSI couldn't space all of its PCI Express x16 slots three spaces apart, since the ATX standard supports only seven slots total. The top two are positioned three spaces apart for optimal cooling, but the space between the second and third slots is barely enough to support a double-thickness cooler. The bottom graphics card slot is just a single space below the third, so using all four slots with graphics cards requires at least two of the cards to have single-slot coolers.

We're a bit perplexed about how a system builder might use the third and forth x16-length slots, since they share a combined x4 pathway through the PCI Express hub. These might prove useful for some lower-bandwidth cards such as a mid-market RAID or multi-port Ethernet controller, but the most likely intended use is with a lower-performance ATI graphics card functioning as a physics engine, if that's still possible. Builders are also welcome to add any number of consumer-level PCI Express x1 cards in the bottom two x16 slots, or to use the slots to enable additional displays at lower performance levels.

A single PCI slot sits immediately beneath the second full-bandwidth graphics card slot, but would be blocked off by the coolers of most high-performance graphics cards. Two more PCI Express x1 slots are found in positions 2 and 3, but using these requires the bottom two slots to drop to x1 mode.

Four of the ICH9R's SATA ports are designed to host internal drives, but their forward-facing connectors could be blocked by the hard drive cages of some "tight" ATX chassis models. Likewise, the CPU socket is located close to the X48 Platinum's top edge, which could prevent the use of some oversized CPU coolers in tight chassis. Both of these potential problems are alleviated by using a spacious case, which is appropriate for the X48 Platinum's high-end target market.

The problems with oversized CPU coolers aren't limited to how far they extend beyond the X48 Platinum's top edge, however. MSI's Circu-Pipe northbridge sink is tall enough to potentially prevent the use of large, flat coolers such as Zalman's CNPS7700 series. Our CNPS9700 fit well, though, due to its perpendicular design.

Two additional SATA 2.0 ports attached to the Marvel 88SE6111 controller point outward, but these could potentially be blocked off by the cooler of a long second graphics card. The Marvel controller also provides the Ultra ATA interface, which like the four Intel SATA internal ports, points toward the X48 Platinum's front edge.

MSI's X48 Platinum front-panel audio header placement is nearly as convenient as Gigabyte's design: MSI put it just above the rear edge of the second PCI Express x16 slot. This allows easier cabling to the top-mounted and mid-mounted front-panel connectors of most cases, while still allowing adequate room for double-thick graphics coolers.

One of MSI's more annoying layout decisions was its placement of the floppy header at the X48 Platinum's bottom edge, beneath the lowest PCI Express slot. While most builders dread putting a floppy in any modern system, the drive is needed to load SATA or AHCI drivers during Windows XP setup. Windows Vista doesn't have the floppy drive requirement, yet Microsoft's flagship OS has failed to capture the interest of the majority of gaming system builders for whom the X48 Platinum is designed.

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  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 15, 2008 3:19 PM
    Help please.Can this board be configured with the first two (SATA) HDs mirrored and the other drives JBOD? Thank you in advance.
  • 0 Hide
    oblivionspell , July 2, 2008 8:26 PM
    Great review, very detailed and informative. But I must say that either you were lucky that your X38 P5E3 Deluxe came with a better-than-average chipset or that I wasn't so lucky and got a malfunctioning one.

    I have an Asus Maximus Formula which is, as you know, the Republic of Gamer's solution for the X38 and recently bought a Patriot Extreme Performance 1150mhz PC2-9600. Whenever I try anything above 1020mhz for the RAM my PC reboots; the higher it is the less time it takes to do it. At 1020mhz it'll only reboot if I run something more demanding like 3dMark06 or any new game, at 1100mhz it'll barely show the Windows loading screen then reboot, above 1120mhz it'll not even load windows and freeze. But in every case it boots up fine.

    The Asus forums are full of users who can't get stability in any way with >=1066mhz ram on X38 boards. A selected few have come to accomplish it however, which leads me to think those were the lucky ones who got the good shipment, like you. The Patriot forums are the same, X38 users can't get their system stable with RAMS over 1066 or not even that.

    Maybe that X48 "official" support is something to consider, it might be the fix to the X38 we users are looking for. Even if it's only to make sure it'll run RAMs at >=1066mhz, it's good enough already.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , August 15, 2008 1:22 PM
    oblivionspell - Have you tried manually setting your RAM voltage to the correct value for the performance setting(s)?

    I had to do this on my Asus Crosshair, even though EPP is supposed to take care of it for you. Without manually setting the voltage, I had memory corruption and crashes, but could use the non-EPP mode. With the voltage bumped to the correct 2.1V,
    the EPP modes work perfectly.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , September 6, 2008 9:37 AM
    oblivionspellGreat review, very detailed and informative. But I must say that either you were lucky that your X38 P5E3 Deluxe came with a better-than-average chipset or that I wasn't so lucky and got a malfunctioning one.I have an Asus Maximus Formula which is, as you know, the Republic of Gamer's solution for the X38 and recently bought a Patriot Extreme Performance 1150mhz PC2-9600. Whenever I try anything above 1020mhz for the RAM my PC reboots; the higher it is the less time it takes to do it. At 1020mhz it'll only reboot if I run something more demanding like 3dMark06 or any new game, at 1100mhz it'll barely show the Windows loading screen then reboot, above 1120mhz it'll not even load windows and freeze. But in every case it boots up fine.The Asus forums are full of users who can't get stability in any way with >=1066mhz ram on X38 boards. A selected few have come to accomplish it however, which leads me to think those were the lucky ones who got the good shipment, like you. The Patriot forums are the same, X38 users can't get their system stable with RAMS over 1066 or not even that.Maybe that X48 "official" support is something to consider, it might be the fix to the X38 we users are looking for. Even if it's only to make sure it'll run RAMs at >=1066mhz, it's good enough already.


    It's just a matter of having the right RAM and using the correct timings and voltage. All X38 and X48 motherboards that support DDR2 memory can run DDR2-1066 speeds with stability, so long as the RAM is set up right in BIOS.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 15, 2008 5:50 PM
    "Inside, users will find a GUI based on the Smart Common Input Method (SCIM) platform."

    This is not accurate. SCIM is an "input method" -- a scheme for entering internationalized text. Not sure what the GUI is really based on. GTK2, maybe?
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , September 15, 2008 7:18 PM
    Quote:
    "Inside, users will find a GUI based on the Smart Common Input Method (SCIM) platform."

    This is not accurate. SCIM is an "input method" -- a scheme for entering internationalized text. Not sure what the GUI is really based on. GTK2, maybe?


    I see your point, but that's the same arguement as "Windows 98SE is a GUI based on DOS". Which is innacurate only in wording. It would be better to say "Windows 98SE is a GUI for DOS".

    So, you'd be happier to read "Users will find a GUI for the Smart Common Input Method (SCIM) platform" correct?
  • 0 Hide
    chill70 , October 15, 2008 12:09 PM
    It's not only the wording. SCIM is not an operating system, so even your example is not analogous (won't even mention that DOS and Windows are separate operating systems with distinct kernels, etc).

    This statement is as correct as saying Vista has a GUI based on a 105-key keyboard.

    SCIM is an input method platform independent on the GUI. GTK GUI is an widget toolkit, independent on SCIM (although they *may* used each other). Neither is "based" on the other.

    If you want to emphasize that the Express Gate supports users of many different languages and nationalities you can mention that the GUI USES SCIM.